Got questions?
Ask Sara!

Send email to


The Chinese, the Egyptians, and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine
The Greeks
The East and the West
The Physiomedicalists and the Eclectics
The Lore
Astrological Botany

The follies of Gerard and Parkinson seem trivial in light of Culpeper's. Nicholas Culpeper was, of the three, the most outrageous and the most popular. He was a Puritan, while the medical establishment of his time was loyalist. He translated the London Pharmacopoeia from Latin to English, putting it into the hands of the general reading public and out of the exclusive ken of the medical establishment. This did little to endear him to this illustrious group. He subscribed wholeheartedly to the Doctrine of Signatures and was fascinated by astrological botany (Plant astrology came from the Arab world into western medical lore). It allied plants to the planets according to color and shape and then connected the astrological influence of the planet with the plants. This blend of the Doctrine of Signatures and astrological botany created quite a brew, and culminated in his work, The Complete Herbal, published in 1651. This herbal is perhaps the swan song of the Age of Herbals, as it was the beginning of the scientific era and Sir Thomas Browne, whose Vulgar Errors (1646) and Enquiries Into Very Many Received Tenets and Commonly Presumed Truths (1658) attacked many of the "truths" in the herbals.

The New World
The Age of Exploration brought European settlers to the New World and with them, they brought herbs as well as vegetables which they grew in "kitchen gardens." These were planted right outside the door for convenience and for safety. The colonists did not plant in rows and used raised beds. Today their method would be described as intensive gardening-interplanting vegetables with herbs and flowers as companion plants to confuse pests and to enhance growth. Colonial interest in herbs continued through the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson grew herbs in his kitchen garden in Monticello. After looking for years, he finally found plants of true French tarragon. His favorite though, was nasturtiums. His nasturtium bed stretched 10 by 19 yards!

The Native Americans called one herb, heartsease (Johnny jump-ups), the "white man's footsteps" because it sprung up wherever the white man went. The following herbs were found in the colonists' gardens: lavender, rosemary, thyme, savory, sage, germander, hyssop, southernwood, lavender cotton, dill, chamomile, caraway, fennel, lemon balm, mint, basil, parsley, borage, chervil, tarragon, rue, comfrey, and licorice. Dye plants such as alkanet, calendula, saffron, tansy, woad, and madder colored colonial clothing and potherbs such as sorrel, purslane, skirret, burnet, and cress were used in salad and in cooking. The colonists also became acquainted with native herbs: boneset, purple coneflower (Echinacea), goldenseal, and pleurisy root, and learned Native American treatments such as inducing perspiration in a saunalike sweat lodge to encourage the body to expel toxins and bacteria. A melding of European and Native American traditions became the basis of the schools known as Physiomedicalism and Eclecticism.